Over the years many celebrities and well doers worldwide have drawn our attention to those in need of aid and nourishment. Whether you attended Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh (not likely given the median age our audience), or remember singing along with Lionel Richie to the multi-platinum “We Are the World,” single (more likely) or maybe just follow Brangelina on Twitter, you’ve probably become aware of ongoing humanitarian crises at some point. Prenatal famine has been linked to various consequences later on in life, but we hear far less about the consequences of these events for generations to come.
That’s why it’s good to see the research community picking up where the celebs have left off. Another follow up study aimed at identifying some of the long-term epigenetic sequelae (don’t you love that word?) of starvation was published recently by a group of Dutch and American researchers. Similar to a few previous studies, this team looked at kids conceived or born during the Dutch Hunger Winter famine of World War II.
Previous work has indicated that differential methylation at certain loci like IGF2 can be linked to periconceptional exposure to famine. To dig into this a bit more, the team took a look at 15 additional candidate genes that are central in metabolic and cardiovascular disease in 60 individuals conceived during the famine and compared them with their sibs conceived during less stressful times.
They found that — even 50 years later — methylation patterns of about half the growth and metabolic disease genes they studied were altered, compared to their non-exposed brothers and sisters. As suspected, the timing of the exposure and the sex of the individual played a role.
Read for yourself at Human Molecular Genetics, August 2009